Introducing Yourself in the Outside World

Hi fellow students (uh, um, researchers? candidates? professors in training?)

 I don’t know if this is a problem for you, but I have great difficulty introducing myself to people in the outside world, i.e. non-academic situations.  Its not that I’m an introvert, its that I don’t know exactly what it is I do.  I have the same problem with standardized forms that ask for “profession.”

 I realize that I’m a Ph.D. student, but I don’t know how to explain it to others.  I’m not taking classes anymore, and frankly referring to myself as a ‘student’ makes me feel rather worthless and juvenile.  But the trouble comes when I try and branch out.  Imagine you are at your spouse’s summer work barbeque:

 “Hi, I’m Dave.  I’m a Ph.D. student.” – problem: 34 years old, still a student.  No respect.

“Hi, I’m Dave.  I’m a Ph.D. candidate!” – problem: Are you running for office or something?  What’s a candidate?  Is that a job, really?

“Hi, I’m Dave.  I’m a researcher.” – problem: what?  Is that a job?

“Hi, I’m Dave.  I’m a research assistant.” – problem: that’s worse than being a student

“Hi, I’m Dave.  I’m a research apprentice!” Don’t laugh – USC has decided that Ph.D. students are now ‘apprentices’ rather than ‘assistants.’  I keep waiting for Trump to tell me “You’re fired.” – problem: I can’t tell people I’m an apprentice.  That’s definitely worse than being a student.

“Hi, I’m Dave.  I’m a college professor.” problem: Well, I’m not.  But I’m going to be.  I hope.  People understand this.  It is a respected profession.  But you have to back-pedal and explain that you aren’t one yet, but you will be soon, but the market is kind of soft, but you’re ABD and you just have to revise a few chapters,…

“Hi, I’m Dave.  “I’m a Smoke Jumper (or Test Pilot, Americas Cup Racer, Day Trader, Scuba Instructor, etc) but I’m on hiatus while I finish my Ph.D.” This is your best bet.  Lie if you have to, but at least you will have something to talk about. 

 I welcome others’ ideas as to how to introduce yourself.

 isdave, Lion Tamer (on hiatus while he finishes his Ph.D.)


12 Responses

  1. I had another thought –

    There’s a great quote from the movie “The History of the World Part I” where Mel Brooks is explaining his profession to the unemployment agency desk clerk in ancient Rome:

    Clerk: “Occupation?”
    Brooks: “Stand-up Philosopher.”
    Clerk: “What?”
    Brooks: “Stand-up Philsopher. I coalesce the vapors of human existence into a viable and meaningful comprehension.”
    Clerk: “Oh, a BULLSHIT Artist!”

    – isdave, “Stand-up Researcher”

  2. Great point.

    If a forms asks for Occupation or Title, I alternate between putting down Student, Research Assistant or Researcher. [Student comes closest to reflecting my financial status, the latter two suggest some modicum of professionalism!] The semester I was teaching it was easy to think of myself as a Professor (my students called me one!). Now that I’m hoping not to teach again until I have a full time job that title just doesn’t feel right.

    Here in the DC area being a Researcher isn’t that unusual of a profession–I’ve been leaning towards that explanation for introductions to non-academic audiences. After all, as a PhD candidate that is what I’m getting paid to do (while also getting a degree in return).

    I’m surprised to hear the whole introduction thing a problem for you, Dave. I thought out there in SoCal that everyone was an actor or actress who just happened to be doing something like waiting tables until they landed the big part. Just tell people you’re a M-A-W… a model, actor, what-ever. 😉

  3. LOL – that was a very sad but true post. Most of the time my husband introduces me to others, and instead of providing a title, he says that I’m “getting my Ph.D.” Then people ask in what, what school, do I teach, and if they are really bold (and actually interested) they will further ask what my research is about and things. By getting them to ask questions, it avoids awkward and uncomfortable situations where I just ramble about what I “do”.

    Great job on this blog site! Looking forward to making it available to other OCIS Doctoral Candidates/Students/Stand-up Researchers/Research Apprentices/Lion Tamers!

  4. This problem came up for me yesterday. Even after (or because of!) reading about it here, I pretty well bungled the “what do I do” part of introducing myself to a neighbor yesterday.

    For my neighbor, it was really easy: “I own my own heating and air conditioning business.” It was somewhat obvious from his work van and with his business name on his T-shirt. [Hmmm… what would be the equivalent in obviousness for a doctoral student??]

    I live a good distance from my school. Many of the people I interact with didn’t go to (or didn’t finish) college. I’m finding when I say I have a job at U. of Maryland where I tele-commute, that make sense. After that, if someone still ask what I do there… I can go into the whole doctoral student // paid to get a degree // want to be a college professor stuff.

  5. I can relate to this situation for sure. I just spent a week with friends, all post-grads, all working. Worse, they are only familiar with the UK and Aust. PhD system, where working on your proposal in your 4th year sounds crazy (most PhDs in UK/Aus are 3 years without any publications), definitely wasn’t enjoying the Student designation.

    But, hell, maybe that’s more motivation to graduate, rather than trying to normalize one’s nether existence 😉

    My other favorite is “So, you want to teach?” Well, yes, teaching is good, but I really want to do research. This is hard to explain to people, even those that went to college, because they have no idea what it is profs actually do, and even less as to the divisions of the world into teaching and research schools (both valuable, but different). So I have gotten used to saying “Yes, and I’m excited about bringing my research into the classroom” 😉

    But my friends tell me that, in bars at least, a one word answer to “what are you getting your doctorate in?” is what’s required. So I go either with Management or Sociology depending on the audience. Good luck trying to explain an Information School at ICIS or Academy, let alone a bar 😉

  6. So, what is an Information School? 😉

  7. Ah, you cheeky fella.

    I just got back from the iConference, the annual conference of the iSchools, so I better have some answers 😉

    An Information School brings together researchers and educators interested in the relationship between information, technology, and people.

    Research-wise iSchools bring together interdisciplinary researchers interested in the role that Information plays in their disciplines and the phenomena that they study. They provide an innovative home—a centre—for research that has historically fallen on the edges of other fields.

    (Ever spoken about online communities to a traditional ethnographer, or a traditional political scientist and watched their eyes glaze over? Eyes don’t glaze over at iSchools.)

    For example, Syracuse lists as its areas: information policy, information behavior, information management, information systems, information technology and information services. ((I’d add Scholarly communications to that list.))

    The faculty have disciplines from Library Science, Economics, Psychology, Sociology, Management, Computer Science (particularly Human Factors and HCI) and Linguistics, as well as others. Clearly there is a social science bent to the schools.

    Professionally, almost all the iSchools have their origins in a Library school and most continue to teach Library Science, but since the management and organization of Information matters in lots more places, most schools have an Information Management degree, which prepares people for CIO track careers.

    What sets Information Schools apart, IMHO, as research venues is their interdisciplinary approach and their tolerance for multiple and innovative methods. Also, not being in a B-School means that one has an ability to pursue study of ‘places that are not businesses’ without necessarily seeing them as sources of lessons for Business. So broader questions of online behavior are common topics of research.

    I’ve been on the tenure and promotion committee at Syracuse and I was impressed at the level of understanding of each other’s fields and disciplines and the effort to ensure that everyone was excelling in those, but also that they were excelling in their collaborations too.

    Similarly, the difference between the B-school focused doctoral consortia that I’ve been to and the iSchool consortia was that iSchool people never close up and say ‘that’s not my area’, rather they analyze the research qua research (questions, scope, appropriate methods) and seek commonalities.

    Of course, I’m still learning 🙂

    Does that about cover it?

    Check out:

    the iSchools Project (a consortium of iSchools)

    and the recent iConference at Michigan:

  8. Thanks, that does help.

    I’m curious about the areas that you mentioned at Syracuse (information policy, information behavior, information management, information systems, information technology and information services).

    Would the study of online communities tend to fall into one of those specific areas? Or, is it viewed more as a phenomenon that researchers in any of those areas might be interested in?

  9. Since online communities are my area I oughta know! In the true Information School way online communities are a phenomenon that people approach in different and complementary ways.

    For example, we’ve been studying free and open source communities for a while, predominantly from an Information Systems perspective, but recently began two collaborations.

    The first is with the centre for natural language processing where we’re looking for ways that NLP can assist the qualitative content analysis methods.

    The second is with Information seeking behaviour scholars where literature on question answering from digital libraries is hoped to make a contribution to understanding help seeking and giving in virtual communities.

    So yes, most of the information systems scholars are studying online communities for themselves, but others find them great places to further their own research.

    (btw, I interpreted online communities as including online teams, such as open source projects).

    Now, is anyone going to ASIST?

  10. […] Have you ever wondered how new scientific fields are formed? I always figured it was a slow, drawn-out process (for example, as James Howison noted in this helpful comment, the field of Information Science has a clear heritage from Library Science). […]

  11. Sometimes, people are so polite with their responses and try to act on what they don’t really get it with “candidate”.
    You could easily find out within a few minutes of conversation.

    I feel uncomfortable with been asked about what this degree will take you up to after you complete…. . As if, I made a wrong decision on studying PhD. But, think this way, some people are ego to admit that he/she is not good as you.

  12. Do labels really matter? Personally I don’t mind what people call/label me as… I guess for me the bigger picture is finding the right amount of depth to explain your research to individuals (which will vary depending on their interest, backgrounds, etc.)

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